“Last Seen” and the Black Community in Davenport

A valuable resource for discovering more details about the families of Davenport’s post-Civil War Black community is Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, an online database of advertisements “placed in newspapers across the United States (and beyond) by formerly enslaved people searching for family members and loved ones after emancipation.”

The “Last Seen” database allows searching by location; three advertisements were placed with return addresses in Davenport, Iowa. The earliest of these appeared in the Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, PA) on July 1, 1865. Mrs. Fannie Robinson was in search of her husband, Cayrel.

The Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, PA), 1 July 1865

A search for Fannie and Cayrel Robinson in standard genealogical sources has yielded no results other than a card in the 1915 State Census of Iowa for Ottumwa. This Fannie Robinson is described as a Black woman, widowed, age 71, and born in Missouri:

Fannie Robinson in the 1915 State Census of Iowa for Ottumwa

However, the designated recipient of Fannie’s hoped-for information, P. C. Cooper, is much easier to find: He was one of the four founders of the African Methodist Episcopal congregation in Davenport.

Cooper appears in Root’s Davenport City Directory for 1867 as Peter:

The 1868-9 directory has him living at the same address, Griswold College, where he was also employed as a janitor.

Fannie may have requested that Peter Cooper place her advertisement, as he was a leader in the A.M.E Church and the Christian Recorder was its official newspaper. With its nation-wide circulation, the Recorder offered the best chance for separated members of Black families to find one another.

In March of the following year, the Christian Recorder published another advertisement with a Davenport return address. Lucinda Reynolds sought the whereabouts of her parents:

The Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, PA), 31 Mar 1866

While we cannot know if Lucinda ever reunited with her parents, the advertisement in the “Last Seen” database reveals their names, the name of a slaveholder, and a location.

Is it possible that William and Matilda Reynolds were sold within Essex County, Virginia, and by 1870 worked among other Black families there as farm laborers? Did Lucinda have a younger brother, Joshua?

1870 US Census for Essex County, VA, showing members of the Rennolds family (1152)

And could their mother Matilda have been born in the Carolinas as a Jones?

Certificate of Death in Essex County, VA for Joshua B. Reynolds, 1916, showing his mother as Matilda Jones, born in “Carolina”

Just two months after placing the advertisement, Lucinda Reynolds’s marriage to a man named Henry Simons would be recorded in Scott County. The witness to the union was none other than Peter C. Cooper. As it turns out, Simons, like Cooper, was an original trustee of the A.M.E. congregation in Davenport.

Davenport Daily Gazette, 30 Nov 1865, page 4

In a third advertisment published in the Christian Recorder, Davenport resident Emma Ashe Pitts sought information about two children she had not seen in nearly 50 years:

The Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, PA), 10 Oct 1895

Sadly, Emma Pitts died in July of the following year, making it unlikely she received any response to her inquiry. And while we find no evidence of Mary Francis or Julius Ashe, we have been able to uncover some details about her own life. Her obituary, published in the Daily Times on 7 July 1896 indicates she was a member of the Third Baptist Church and that she was born in Norfolk, Virginia. The Mrs. Andrew Pitts who told the Davenport Weekly Times in May 1872 that “she had been a Methodist forty years, but had at last opened her eyes to the true church” after being baptized in the Mississippi River by Rev. Walker of the Third Baptist Church, was likely Emma. The 1885 State Census of Iowa confirms that Emma and Andrew lived together in Davenport, and that her birthplace was Virginia. Could this Andrew Pitts, born in Missouri about 1830 and described in the Davenport city directories of the 1890s as a “whitewasher,” have been the same Andrew Pitts who served in Company G of the 56th US Colored Infantry?

While the answers to these questions about Black families in Davenport may remain elusive, the “Last Seen” database opens more possible avenues of inquiry.

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